Anime

Discussion: The normalisation of violence in Anime

A couple of days ago I watched the first episode of ‘Toradora’, I’d heard about how it was this fantastic rom-com that everybody loved, yet I could barely get through the episode. To be honest, I was shocked at how easily ‘Tora’ was able to physically assault ‘Dora’ – their first meeting is when ‘Dora’ bumps into her, and in response she literally K.O.’s him. It got me thinking about how normal hitting or punching others, in everyday life anime, is portrayed. I’m not talking about shows like Fairy Tail or One Piece where the name of the game is to fight – I want to discuss anime that show characters in relatively normal situations.

So in supposedly ‘everyday’ life anime, we’ve seen characters being punched, slapped and thrown into walls. Before you go and say “Oh it’s just slapstick humour – it’s just a joke!” Let’s look at the effects of this normalising violence on audiences.  In the U.S. there was a massive court case regarding violence in video games. In this court case, the Gruel brief (2010) was presented, which was a collective statement by 13 authors, and was agreed by 102 signees (all from Academic and scholarly backgrounds such as Psychology). This brief essentially stated that violence in video games (and other authors have found this extends to all kinds of media) leads to imitation, physiological arousal (that is being physically prepared to fight) and emotional desensitisation. Interactions with violent media ultimately increased later aggressive behaviour in children and adolescents.

So in anime series, where violence towards others is seen as an everyday occurrence and used as a comedic device – shouldn’t this be considered a problem? One thing I have noticed is that a lot of the violence is usually committed between female friends, or a female towards a male – and this is what I’ll focus on.

'Nichijou' : Where after being accidentally hit, one friend throws the puck at the other.
‘Nichijou’ : Where after being accidentally hit, one friend throws the puck at the other in retaliation.

From my personal experience, I remember having 2 friends in High School (A and B) who both watched ‘everyday’ anime. One morning, before class, I was sitting with A. B walked up to us, and was angry at A because A had not waited for her at the bus stop. B slapped A very hard, and when A started crying, B walked away. After calming A down, I walked after B and confronted her about it – B said that she didn’t see the problem with hitting A, since it had happened in the anime they had watched together and they had laughed at it when they watched it – so she though A would find it funny if B did it to her.

I’d also seen another group of girls in my school, none of them had a Japanese background, but one girl in particularly would imitate an anime character she liked. Whenever her friend did something she didn’t like, she’d yell out “BAKA!” and slap her across the head. Obviously these individual’s have out grown this behaviour (at least I hope they have) but there’s no doubt that they were influenced by the media they consumed.

The other main problem is the violence where a girl will attack a guy. In our society there is a strong culture of masculinity – this culture prevents male victims from coming forward when they have been assaulted or abused by women. Stories of male victims of rape are filled with disgusting comments that minimalise and make fun of the trauma male victims experienced. I’m not saying that’s what anime does, what I’m arguing is that by showing a male being hurt at the hands of a female it promotes and encourages this culture. No one person being hurt by another person should be seen as humorous or belittled.

Kagura punching Kyo in 'Fruits Basket' because she can't convey her romantic feelings towards him
Kagura punching Kyo in ‘Fruits Basket’ because she can’t convey her romantic feelings towards him

Essentially the comedic portrayal of violence in everyday anime normalises violence towards others. It promotes behaviour through imitation and adds to a culture that is not sensitive to male victims. Ultimately, I would like to see violence in anime treated to show the impacts of hurting others – it’d be great to see characters call out the violent behaviour of others and show it’s not ok to use others as a punching bag.

So what do you think? Have you noticed something similar? Or do you think it’s harmless fun? Let me know down in the comments – always keen for a friendly discussion 😀

I’m thinking of keeping up discussion posts once a month – if you’re interested in my previous one you can find it here, it’s on what factors influence the way someone will connect with a Shōjo character.

Till next time.

References:

Pollard-Sacks, Deana and Bushman, Brad J. and Anderson, Craig A., Do Violent Video Games Harm Children? Comparing the Scientific Amicus Curiae ‘Experts’ in Brown v. Entertainment Merchants Association (May 31, 2011). Northwestern University Law Review Colloquy, Vol. 106, p. 1, 2011. Available at SSRN: http://ssrn.com/abstract=1856116

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6 thoughts on “Discussion: The normalisation of violence in Anime

  1. I don’t think you’re appreciating the flipside of a Tsundere – indeed, the character is a hyperbole of the violent personalities that some girls have IRL (I have a friend who bites people like it’s going out of style), but they also have a soft, inner core that manifests itself to the viewer. To relate a Tsundere to the ‘violence in video games’ argument is erroneous; violent video games don’t have an accompanying aspect of considerate calmness and gentleness, but Tsundere characters express an importance for softness on the inside which is merely masked by violence on the outside. Tsunderes actually, from what I’ve seen, work to undo any potential psychological effect of violent video games (that debate is still ongoing, of course) by advocating people to be the opposite of violent on the inside.

    Toradora even promotes this incredibly early on, as Taiga and Ryuugi beat up a lamppost in outrage of how the world sees them – Taiga as just the violent girl, Ryuuji as just the scary guy. If you’re only seeing Taiga’s violent side, then she might as well be yelling at you too.

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    1. Thank you for the comment!
      I do understand the idea of Tsundere but my problem with them is that the way that they act out and are violent to other people is seen as almost normal and comedic. Despite how kind or nice they are on the inside, it shouldn’t be shown as ‘funny’ to hurt another character. I didn’t (and probably never will) continue watching Toradora, but in the first episode the way she hurts ‘Dora’ is set up to be a funny scene -I don’t really care so much about how sweet she is on the inside, I think it’s inappropriate to show the way she hurts another characters as comedic.

      I suppose I should’ve used another article, but the Gruel brief is probably one of the more famous articles in regards to violence in media. Essentially there are thousands of articles that state watching violence (regardless of how multi-dimensional characters are) increases aggressive behaviour. I mean you can even go back to the 1970s with Bandura’s social learning theories to see that by watching an individual be violent towards another, with no negative consequences, ultimately leads to imitation behaviour. To prevent imitation, there needs to be shown a consequence to the person action immediately afterwards – if it’s an hour later, or 10 episodes down the road, there’s no point – the learning has happened.

      Essentially what I’m trying to say is that by ‘normalising’ the way that Tsundere or other characters treat those around them, it can promote violent behaviours – just like my friends hit each other, or when your friend bites other people (of course I don’t know your friend, nor do I know why she/he does bite people) but biting others is seen a lot in anime. I don’t think that showing such behaviour as ‘funny’ does anything but encourage it.

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  2. I understand your point, and I agree with a lot of your assertions. And while the first interaction between the mains in Toradora is a good lead-in for such discussion, the series is actually a poor example of “normalized violence.”

    Why is Toradora so beloved? Besides the excellent character design, dialogue, music, animation, etc., it’s because it has character development unlike almost any anime romcom ever created.

    Taiga doing what she did (and Jeko touches on her tsundere side in the comments above) shows what kind of person she is – she’s unapproachable (feared by teachers and classmates alike) and is pretty vile in character. The way she goes on to treat Ryuuji AFTER hitting him is more revealing of her despicable character than even her punch. And she, along with the other main characters, all represent archetypes, but as we get to know them (and Taiga’s character is mostly easily known), we see their flaws, and through the course of the series, we see how they deal with these parts of themselves that they (and/or others) dislike.

    And additionally, the violence in Toradora generally serves a purpose. There is more violence throughout the series, heavier violence and unlike this slapstick kind (Love Hina is one of the worst perpetrators of this “normalized violence”), and it is always meant to be shocking because these scenes serve as turning points for characters and the series in general.

    I guess what I’m saying is, maybe give Toradora another shot. It may surprise you.

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    1. Hiya, thanks for the comment 🙂

      I just want to clarify (and as you said) I actually didn’t mean to use ‘Toradora’ as an example of normalised violence – obviously since I haven’t seen the whole series it would be strange to generalise it based on the first episode. My main reason for discussing ‘Toradora’ right at the beginning was just as kind of introduction. It served as a realisation moment for me – I was just sitting down watching an anime, and was just shocked at seeing Taiga completely K.O. Ryuuji – that then lead me to look at other series that I had previously seen as just silly everyday life ones and then realised there could be something potentially problematic with the way they show and portray violence.

      But I’ll try to give ‘Toradora’ another shot – it seems to hold a special place in a lot of people’s hearts so maybe I was a bit quick to judge it – who knows Taiga may actually grow on me 😛

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  3. I think the physical violence of women on men is seen as humorous or funny highly likely because it’s not how things normally should stand. That is, in our still dominantly patriarchal world, physical strength is almost never attributed to women.

    It’s perceived that it’s just natural for men to possess that kind of strength to pull of those painful punches. And if women possess the same ability, they’ll most likely be labelled as “barbarians.”

    Hence, we often see male characters commenting on the the female characters’ brute force, saying stuff alluding to the “barbaric” (and “immature”) behavior of these women. Even the audience may subconsciously agree with what the male MC would think of the female character’s [mindless] violence. These characters would effectively lose some of their womanly “charms” (as defined by our patriarchal society), for they are expected to be the gentle, amiable, of-second-importance-and-authority members of society. There’s just no way these gals can be as strong as these men.

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    1. Thank you for your comment 🙂

      You’ve brought up a very interesting point, and one I completely agree with. There’s almost this expectation in most anime that the female characters will be soft and sweet. So it’s a shock and ‘humorous’ when they break out of that set mould.It’s such a shame that in a lot of series, female characters are forced into either the aggressive or the sweet – but there’s rarely anything in between.

      This leads us into another problem; that there should be more versatile female characters in anime. It’s one of the reason I love ‘Akame ga Kill’ – there’s so many strong female leads who also have a variety of personality types and react to their job differently.

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